Mystery, Wonder and Awe, “O” My! 

musicJust over the Massachusetts state border in Fall River, 20 or so highly skilled and dedicated classical singers gather weekly to rehearse the complex and beautiful vocal music of various composers. This group calls itself “Sine Nomine,” which translates to “Without a Name.” Founded in 1993 by early music specialist Glenn Giuttari, Sine Nomine has been in existence for over 20 years.

Joseph Fort, Sine Nomine’s new music director, is currently a PhD candidate in music theory at Harvard University. He is a graduate of Cambridge University and also has studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. A mild-mannered man full of musical integrity, Fort has been involved in choral music his entire professional life, both as a director and as an accompanist. In addition to his duties at Sine Nomine, Fort conducts the Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, and is the music director at Grace Church in Newton, Mass.

Being a chamber choir, Sine Nomine differs from a traditional choir in a couple of ways, most notably by its small size. With fewer vocalists per part, each individual singer carries more responsibility.

“What’s great about this group is that between all the rehearsals, [the singers] go and prepare for the next rehearsal on their own,” says Fort. “When we actually rehearse together, we don’t have to worry about crashing thru the notes. We can actually work on crafting the piece of music. That’s what really makes this group stand out. Also, in comparison to a church choir, we’re not affiliated with any particular church service. We are able to focus exclusively on preparing the music for our concerts, and we’re able to broaden our choice of repertoire.”

Sine Nomine will perform its first concert of 2015 on Jan 17 at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Bristol, RI. A second performance happens on Sun, Jan 18 at Grace Episcopal Church in New Bedford.

Tag-lined with the single-letter Latin word ‘O’, the program features both classic and modern settings of influential texts that begin with O.

Fort explains this concept:

“We looked for inspirational settings of text that begin with this word. Usually they are trying to express wonder, mystery, distress or some other powerful emotion. There are so many brilliant settings of texts like ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ and ‘O Sacrum Convivium.’ Originally they were performed for one Sunday of the year in the church. In this sense, they actually get very few performances.”

A key concept behind this concert program is the juxtaposition of old and new settings of the same text, in many cases written centuries apart. “For example,” continues Fort, “we’ll be performing the William Byrd setting of ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ (written in the early 1600s) as well as the Morten Lauridsen setting of the same text written in 1997. It’s quite interesting when you take the same texts set by different composers and discover how they each approach it. They’re after the same thing, but they use very different techniques.”

On Sat, May 16, Sine Nomine will perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s ‘Vespers’ at Saint Michael the Archangel Church in Woonsocket, RI. The year 2015 marks the 100 year anniversary of this work, which has been labeled by many scholars as Rachmaninoff’s finest achievement. Even more poignant is the context in which it will be performed in Rhode Island.

“Saint Michael’s is a Ukranian orthodox church that recently burned down. They’re just finishing their restoration and rebuilding of the church. We’ll be performing ‘Vespers’ as part of their celebratory church service, so we’re doing a liturgical form of it. This should be interesting, as it’s almost always performed as a concert piece.”

“Vespers” will also be performed in its full concert version on Fri, May 15 at St. Lawrence Martyr in New Bedford, Mass.

Defining quality over quantity, Sine Nomine performs only two programs each season. Both of these upcoming concerts promise to be unique listening experiences. For more information, visit sinenominechoir.org

 

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